The Hen and Chickens Theatre are playing host to a rather interesting concept in their theatre this month, in the form of In The Lamplight’s new piece, Lady Julia. Based on the 1888 play Miss Julie by August Strindberg, In The LampLight bring a radical updated translation to suit the modern audience in their version retitled Lady Julia.
Yet where this performance makes a stand against other productions currently doing the circuit in the land of Fringe Theatre is that, Lady Julia, has been minimally directed, blocking has been left to that of the actors, and only entrances and exists are defined by Gabriella Santinelli as director. The outcome in Lady Julia is a piece that explores the relationship between the characters with electric tension and atmosphere.
Lady Julia played by Annabel Topham is the daughter of a wealthy Earl who at a new year eves party in her fathers luxury home, finds that there is better fun to be had playing and partying with the lesser servants within the household. Lady Julia takes a liking to that of John, one of the Earls man servants, played in seduction and conflict by James Kenward. Despite Johns clear affection to his girlfriend, Christine, another servant played by Amy Rhodes, a sexual playing between the two leads to a night of passion and the hatching of a plan to escape the country, to fall in love, and live happy. However, with Stringberg’s play, and translated by Ben Kenward to a seductive 21st century, class and wealth is still a barrier that love can not break through, and things don’t quite go to plan.
Lady Julia, is a striking piece, which translates to the present time in an effective manner, showing the central themes of love, class and wealth to be deciding factors in the way that we live in todays society. Whilst some would argue that we no longer have a class system and we are equal in society, I would beg to differ, and state that money is still a crucial factor in how society is split, and this isn’t more evident than the distance between the characters of Lady Julia and John. Love, romance or a sleazy night of sex, does not easily jump the money gap between them, and ultimately they end up where they started, a tragic representation of their class.
As already stated Lady Julia is not directed in a conventional sense, which makes every night different during this run. The actors might know their lines, and know when they should leave and enter the stage, but everything between this is open to interpretation, change, and based on the rolling out of lines and action. It makes for a scary prospect, tackling a text from a purely in-depth character focus.
The outcome of the action is electric. Lady Julia is a raw piece, exposed to their workings of actors within a moment.
At times Topham as Lady Julia creates a tragic character who jumps between emotions within seconds, never fully settling, but taking her lines and throwing them at Kenward. Topham stretches from a seductive, “kiss my feet” woman to an emotional wreck, screaming until hoarse.
In contrast to this Kenward as John is that of a controlled and well mannered and timed series of smooth lines to win over Lady Julia. Kenward almost becomes sinister in how calm and collective he approaches the lines, but equally comes alive with power and strength in controlling Lady Julia and putting her in her place.
Whilst Topham and Kenward showed what it was like to reveal the inner workings of actors fully engaging with the space and lack of direction, Rhodes as Christine is a grounded rock amongst this storm. Her delivery and collected approach to Christine, showed that she is one to watch out for in future productions. Although not seen greatly in Lady Julia, her acting became that of a breath of fresh air for the production.
It is clear that Lady Julia is a complex piece, working on a series of multiple layers. With Santielli driving a character based anaylsis instead of direction of movement, creates an exciting and bold approach to a text driven performance. At times the actors were exposed to this lack of direction and looked clumsy on the stage, yet equally it proved throughout the running time that you could not take anything for granted.
Lady Julia is a piece full of surprises.
… and whilst these surprises were at times shocking, (take the killing of a bird by chopping off its head), it drove the piece into uncharted territory. It is fresh, funny, at times chaotic but above all it is unpredictable.
The only let down for the piece comes in the form of a scene of physical theatre/dance within the middle of Lady Julia. Whilst at the time, this sexually, tension filled moment was concieved brilliantly to reflect that of the tension and sexual energy of the characters, it was a device used only the once, and thus making it less effective. It was a stark contrast to the naturalistic styling of the rest of the piece, whose outcome was sadly lost.
Lady Julia will be developing a lot over the course of its run at The Hen and Chickens Theatre, and a development which will certainly be causing a stir to theatre audiences in Highbury and Islington. It will be interesting to return to the piece after a week, to see just how different the actors are now using the stage and their lines… watch this space.
Lady Julia is on at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 19th December. Booking tickets by calling 020 7704 2001 or via the Unrestricted View website.